The Supreme Court on Wednesday slammed the Uttar Pradesh government and said that it was getting an impression that the Uttar Pradesh Police was “dragging its feet” in its investigation into the October 3 violence in Lakhimpur Kheri where eight persons, including four farmers, were killed during a farmers’ protest. “We think you (UP Police) are dragging your feet. Please dispel that impression,” a Bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli observed.
The observation of the Bench came after noting that the statements of only four witnesses have been recorded under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The apex court adjourned the hearing in the Lakhimpur Kheri case to October 26 and asked the SIT probing the case to record statements of other witnesses also under Section 164 CrPC.
The top court questioned Senior Advocate Harish Salve, appearing for the Uttar Pradesh government, why the statements of other witnesses were not recorded. Salve then requested the Bench for time to record statements of witnesses and the case was adjourned to October 26.
The Bench pointed out that the Special Investigation Team will have to identify the vulnerable witnesses and provide them protection and record their statements under Section 164 CrPC, as it will have more evidentiary value. At the outset, Salve informed the apex court that he had submitted a report on the incident in a sealed cover.
The Bench responded that it never said anything about the report in a sealed cover. Salve said, “A concern was stated that the State was going soft on the accused, now everybody is arrested and they are in jail. As of today, 10 accused are arrested. There are two crimes which were driving into farmers and the other one in which a person was lynched.”
The top court after perusing the report of the UP government questioned why out of 44 witnesses, statements of only four were recorded. The statements of other witnesses were being recorded, but the courts had shut (due to Dussehra break), Salve said. It asked Salve how many accused are in judicial custody and how many are in police custody. Salve replied that out of the 10 accused (in crime related to driving of vehicle into the farmers), four were in police custody.
The Bench then asked Slave, “What about the other six? You did not seek custody so they were sent to judicial custody. What is the situation in this case?” Questioning the UP government on why police custody of other accused was not sought, the Bench said, “Until and unless they are interrogated by police, you won’t find out.”
Salve apprised the apex court that the phones of the accused had been seized and the videos have been sent for forensic examination. “If the forensic reports come, there may not be a need for further questioning,” he added. The apex court was hearing a case where two lawyers had written a letter to the CJI seeking a high-level judicial inquiry into the incident.
The apex court had on October 8 expressed dissatisfaction over the steps taken by the Uttar Pradesh government in the killing of eight persons. Ten people, including Ashish Mishra, son of Union Minister of State for Home Affairs and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Ajay Kumar Mishra ‘Teni’, have been arrested so far in connection with the case.
The top court had said it is “not satisfied” with the action taken by the Uttar Pradesh government in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence and also questioned the State on why accused Ashish Mishra was not arrested so far. Ashish Mishra had allegedly mowed down farmers with his car.
The top court had said that the Uttar Pradesh government is not proceeding in the manner, in which it should proceed against the accused while adding that the killing of eight people in Lakhimpur Kheri is a “brutal murder” and the law must take its course against all accused. The top court had asked the Uttar Pradesh government whether in other murder cases the police issue summons instead of arresting the accused.
Not arresting the accused is sending a “wrong message”, the Bench had observed as the police has not arrested Ashish Mishra. The Bench had further observed that transferring the case to CBI for investigation is also not a solution.
Two advocates — Shiv Kumar Tripathi and CS Panda — had sent the letter petition before CJI seeking punishment for politicians allegedly involved in the ghastly incident. The letter had stated, “Having regard to the seriousness of the killing of the farmers at district Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh, it is incumbent upon this Court to intervene in the matter as flashed in the press.” A single-member Commission of Enquiry with headquarters at Lakhimpur Kheri has been constituted to investigate the death of eight persons in Lakhimpur Kheri. Uttar Pradesh government has appointed retired Allahabad High Court judge Pradeep Kumar Srivastava as a single-member Commission to inquire about the incident and enquiry to be completed within a period of two months.
Local farmers blame Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Kumar Mishra ‘Teni’ and his son for the violence that left eight dead, including four farmers a local journalist and others. They were mowed down by a vehicle that was part of the convoy of Minister in Lakhimpur Kheri in north-central Uttar Pradesh. Videos are also being circulated on social media where a Mahindra Thar was seen knocking down protesters from behind.
The Minister and his son deny the charges. Ashish Mishra and 20 others have been booked for murder but have not been arrested yet.